I wrote a poem a little while ago that went something like this:
I could talk…
But my tongue is too slow for my brain.
I could yell…
But my voice is too weak for my passion.
I could cry…
And I do. But tears are silent.
My gasping whimpers are not, but they are not words.
They do not speak, just as my tears do not tell my story.
I am tired of a slow tongue and a weak voice.
Tired of silent tears that stain my favorite shirt.
My truths, my lies…
How will you know them?
How will you hear them over a stumbling tongue and a rasping voice?
Is that the scratch of pen on paper?
Is that the rhythm of the voice-less?
The symphony of the silent?
Their words are bold and strong…
Touchable, as the meaning the convey.
Can you hear my words?
I don’t claim to be a poet, and you will never find the words “good poetry” and “Jackie Schickling” on the same page, let alone in the same sentence, but sometimes it’s not about how you get the words out, only that they are finally out.
I wrote that poem from a place of powerlessness. As the youngest in my immediate and extended family growing up what I had to say was often disregarded. It didn’t help that I was a very opinionated, strange kid back then, either. Growing up in my household from an infant to a young adult I learned very early that if you wanted a chance to be heard you had to be the loudest one in the room, otherwise whatever you had to say wasn’t important enough to hear. You had to belt your words like you were trying to reach the passengers in the planes passing overhead, and the only way to make sure you could prove that you were the loudest was to yell at the same time that everyone else was yelling, otherwise how would you be able to judge everyone’s volume? I learned very young that my little lungs could not outdo anyone older than me in my household—which was everyone. I could not scream louder at them than they could scream at me. So, I must not have had to say anything worth hearing.
Now, as an adult that has spent many years in a completely new environment of my own design, I know that logic is deeply flawed. The volume of my voice has no bearing on the importance of what I want to say, just as the importance of what I want to say should have no bearing on my volume. Old habits die hard, though, and there have been many times over the years after my rehabilitation that I find myself reverting back to a screaming mess. Particularly, I’ve found, when I’m in the presence of another screamer.
The strange thing, though, is that I never felt bad for yelling. I could sometimes be rude in getting my point across, but the weird thing is, looking back I didn’t feel sorry for my abrasive methods of communicating. What I did feel sorry about was that I said anything at all. I felt like having something to say made me rude, more so than how I was saying it. I’ve pondered why that is for some time and I think I have some ideas as to where that illogical repentance comes from, but what I think really matters is not being afraid to speak.
I’ve talked about personal censoring before, but this something else. This isn’t fear that you’ll be judged for what you say or do, this is the twisted belief that what you have to say does not matter. As a child, I was the youngest, which meant I wasn’t as smart as everyone else, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have a point of view. True, my point of view wasn’t always as mature, being a child and teenager, but that did that mean my words were any less important? Why can’t a child be correct, occasionally? I’m sure it’s happened once or twice in human history, where a youngling was correct when a grown adult was not. In reality, I know now that it didn’t matter if I was correct or if I was making things up; the amount of attention my words would have received would be the same: very little if any.
Child me did not believe that what I said mattered in the big scheme of things, and it lead me to a lot of downward hills in my teenage years. The one positive that came out of all of that suppression was my writing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all the fiction I frantically wrote as a teenager, the three big novels and lots of little shorts that I created from my youth, they were my way of being heard. They were all about protagonists who would lose something dear to them and be forced to overcome absurd obstacles in order to regain some semblance of what they were missing. Sort of how a young Jackie would lose the power in her voice and be forced to absurdly subconsciously speak through the traumatic experiences of fictional characters in order to feel like someone was listening.
Now I know that kind of thinking is a load of poop, but it has taken me years to clear myself of that deprecating mindset. And while I am still opinionated, as well as strange I have been working on more tranquil methods of communication and usually I do well. The exception being those moments when I’m in the presence of a screamer, of course.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t blame anyone for my old mindset. No one purposefully set out to make me feel like my voice wasn’t worth listening to, abusing me to succeed with some nefarious plot; it was simply the result of thoughtless actions that anyone and everyone is capable of.
I am grateful that I had writing as my outlet back then, and I’m grateful that I know how important my voice is, now. It did teach me something very important though: Everyone has a story, we all have a point of view whether it is shared with another or not. But I strongly encourage you to share it.
Even if you feel like no one will listen, even if you’re sure it will fall on deaf ears and get wafted away on the next breeze, say what you have to say. You don’t have to scream to be heard, because the right people, the ones who matter won’t feel the need to compete for volume. Sometimes those people are not the ones we wish they are, and sometimes those people need to learn their own ways to stop screaming and start speaking, but I think you’ll find, as I did, that the people who choose to listen, even when your voice is soft as a whisper, they are the ones who matter.
And if you don’t have someone like that yet, someone who will listen to your words with respect and awe, please don’t give up and stop communicating altogether or no one at all will hear what you have to say, and that would be a shame. For all you know, that person who really wants to hear you speak is holding their ear to the walls, hoping to hear your voice, straining for just a peep from someone with something to say.
Silence is golden, but it has never been answered with the sentence: “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying.” Don’t be silent. Use your words, even if the only way you can is through the silent symphony of writing. That’s still my preferred method.
So, say what you have to say! Speak it out loud, or write it down. You can even go ahead and say it here, if you like, I’m always happy to listen and hear a new point of view. They’re all relevant, you know!